Orpheus In Love by Craig Lucas

BOMB 39 Spring 1992
Issue 39 039  Spring 1992

Discover MFA Programs in Art and Writing

ACT ONE

1. Sleepsong

(The Tenor is alone in bed. Two Bassoonists play.)

TENOR: The left side is better. The heart is on the left side … Unless you’re left-handed. I’m not left handed. Am I? The cerebellum is divided in two parts. Like Gaul. No. It’s late. It’s too late for anything to ever be right. The heart is on the right! (Tries his right hand:) I pledge allegiance to—(Tries his left hand:) I pledge allegiance to—(Tries his right hand:) The Father, Son, and Holy … (Tries his left hand:) Father, Son, and Holy Ghost … Which is it? The Japanese read from left to right. Or is it the Moslems? Everything will make sense in the morning. I hope. If it doesn’t, what will I do about it? It will all make sense in the morning. Life is strange. (Closes his eyes. Opens them.) What was I dreaming? I forget … (Remembers:) We were under the sea, me and Liza Minelli. We were smoking cigarettes and making goo-goo eyes. And we were green and weightless. She has big eyes … for someone her size. Go to sleep! … It wasn’t Liza Minelli. It was her mother, Elizabeth Taylor. Elizabeth Montgomery. Montgomery Clift. Clifton Webb. The cerebellum is divided. The cerebellum is divided in two. The central nervous system is attached to the right—Or the left … The left—Or the right … What time is it now? Late. Too late. What’s left? Nothing. What’s right? Nothing left. Nothing right. Nothing wrong—Stop thinking! Thinking … Two syllables. The right. The left. Go to sleep now. (Tries.) Sleep has no left side. Sleep has no right side. I have the right! Sleep, sweet sleep. Sleep. Tomorrow is Muesday. Thwendsay. Fraturday. (Alarmed:) Nothing will ever be the same now. They’ll change the language and the numbers like Australia where the seasons and the whirlpools go the other way around. Cars ride on the wrong side. That side, the other side … Well, it depends which way you’re going … I can’t explain it. The right side is the right side: That makes sense. No. It’s late. It’s too late for anything to ever be right. It’s tomorrow! Tomorrow never comes … The heart is on the right side. Unless you’re ambidextrous. Sweet sleep. Sweet.  

2.

Little Fingers

(The Soprano is seated at the piano. She plays throughout, singing and speaking. To the audience:)

SOPRANO: I’ll bet you don’t remember me. I remember you. You never practiced, did you? (To a small, invisible child seated beside her on the bench:) No, little finger, that’s right. No … that’s right … Good. La-la-la-la-la-la-ah-la. (To the audience:) You loved my bosom, didn’t you? … I thought as much. La-la-la-la-la-ah! La. (To the child:) No, little finger, that’s right … Thumb. Very good. (To the audience:) When my mother died, I thought of all the objects I had ever touched, the shape of things, smooth surfaces, my life in relation to the things I had known, the bed, the chairs, the sweaters. Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha—(To the child:) Andante. (To the audience:) Clothes! Isn’t it strange? La-la-la-la-la-la. Ah. They’re the saddest when they go. Sweaters. And blouses. The arms loosening from their shoulders, the buttons dropping, then the fabric pulls apart into strings and suddenly you’re naked. Naked. Ah-Ah-Ah. (To the child:) Little finger. (To the audience:) You sat here every week, trying to convince me you’d been practicing, but I knew what you’d been doing with your little fingers, your little fingers, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. You always kept your eye on the top button of my blouse, didn’t you? Hm? (Her “Hm?” turns into a hum, then she sings:) Ah. Ah. (To the child:) Eyes on the page, please. (To the audience:) When my father died I thought, Well, now I’m all alone. (To the child:) Pedal. (To the audience:) Alone, alone. I was like the lost button of my old torn sweater. And I am useless! I am free! La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. Ah. Ah. I was like a satellite gone off course—(To the child:) Good. All right, next week I expect you to have practiced, I want this piece memorized with the markings, remember your little finger, practice the left hand by itself, that should help, and have a good time. (To herself.) Now I am all alone. Little fingers, fingers. (To the audience:) What did you ever know of me? Hm? Besides my little fingers! On all your buttons! In all your dreams! Hm? Nothing at all! La-La-la-la-la-ah. (Pause.) When I died, I thought, Now I am like nothing at all. No, I am like nothing at all. Death is like that. Ah. Ah. Ah. Ah. A thousand little fingers at all your buttons and suddenly you’re free! Free! Ah. Ah. (Stops playing abruptly.) What would you know about it? Hm? (Plays.) Nothing at all!  

3.

The Cello Lecture

(Cellist alone on stage. Long pause. Tunes his or her cello, checks watch. Tenor enters.)

TENOR: Sorry I’m late. (He refers to the Cellist by his/her real name, e.g. Neal.) Neal. I’ll just be … right with you. As soon as I can find … Ha. (Finds loose papers in pocket.) All rightie. (He looks out at the audience, rifling through notes.) “The Cello.” Double bass, cello … Cello, cello … My apologies … to all … Viola, viola, double bass, viola, double bass. The cello should be right—(To Cellist:) Why don’t you play something? … Right in here between the viola aaaaannnnd … Damn. Play, play, please. All right. No, well, it’s not here, that’s all. It’s not here at all. The, uh, cello … No, I know I had this. I’m going to run out to the car, won’t be a … (As he walks off the stage:) Play something, Neal, please. I won’t be a second. Be right back! (Door slam from off. The Cellist begins to play. After a while, we hear another door slam.) Nope! (The Tenor re-appears.) It’s, uh … Well just have to … You’re looking well. Neal. Sorry about the, uh, confusion. (Beginning the lecture:) The cello … The cello is the … The cello is the third largest … instrument, stringed instrument. In … (Pause.) The cello is the third largest stringed instrument. (To the Cellist:) Right? (The Cellist stops playing.) And the cello is the third largest stringed instrument and … Why don’t you play something for one second while I just see if I can, uh … (Searches again … Cellist resumes playing.) They’re just a guideline. A kind of a … map. A plan. A path to be strayed from. And … Well. No, the cello is the third largest stringed instrument. And … That’s lovely, Neal. (To the audience:) Isn’t that nice? … The cello is … It’s just a terrific little thing. Lovely sound. Sad. I think. Some people don’t find it sad. And the, uh … What was I going to say? (Remembers:) Oh, the double bass is bigger! Much bigger. A lot bigger. And … I mean, to my way of thinking. Maybe I’m, uh—I mean, maybe I’m fooling myself—But, no, it is, it’s bigger. The cello is the third largest stringed instrument and as you can see it has … (Sneaks a glance.) Four strings. Little … stringy kinds of strings and it, uh … it’s one of the best. One of my favorites, I should say. Some people don’t like it But, uh— … You know the odd thing about the cello is its shape. Kind of like a busty woman. A little busty midget woman. No, there’s a reason for that … Neal, would you like to, uh … (The Cellist looks away.) No? Well, actually, the cello— … The origin … You know, I write these things down so that I’ll have them. Why write it down if you’re not going to bring it along? It’s like … It’ s like making a cake and then throwing it out the window … You know? Let me just see one more time. (As he searches once more:) That’s an awfully pretty piece, Neal. Maybe you’d like to say a little something about it? Where it comes from? When it was, uh … Who composed it? (No response.) Just a few damn little details. I just hate it when I forget things, I hate that, I feel like a child, don’t you? I feel like a little child who’s left his jacket on the bus and, “What do you think, money grows on trees?” (Regains his composure.) Well, that’s lovely, Neal. Really lovely. And sad, too. Why do you suppose that is? Certain instruments? The timbre? The, uh—(Remembers:) C—G—D—A! Those are the strings, C—G—D—A! The four strings of the third largest living stringed instrument. The double bass is the largest, the cello, the viola, the violin! C—G—D—A! And there’s a sentence, too, a very famous sentence like “Every Good Boy Does Fine” which cellists all over the world use to remember the little strings of their cello. like H.O.M.E.S. for the Great Lakes. Huron, Ontario … Minnesota. Neal, do you want to tell us what that sentence is? The famous C—G—D—A sentence? Come on. Something like … “Certain Girls Don’t … Ask.” That’s it, “Certain Girls Don’t Ask!” I don’t need notes, who needs notes!? The cellist does! He needs C—G—D—A, those are his notes, he can’t leave those at home, can he? Not and play the cello, he can’t. All right! … That really is so lovely what you’re playing, Neal, don’t you want to tell us a little bit about the piece. It’s actually a well-known cello piece, isn’t it? It’s uh … (Wipes his mouth as he says: ) Leoncavallo, I think. (Long pause. The Cellist plays. The Tenor laughs.) I had a funny little hat when I was about six years old, a funny little paper hat, I don’t even know where I got it and … I loved that hat … I don’t know why I thought of that, do you? … This music … What is the point, though, really? What … is the point of it all? Writing things down, taking notes, keeping things in order, going over them beforehand and checking your pockets all along the way so you won’t forget, so you won’t be here now like this in front of alllll these people at _________! (He says the name of the current concert hall or theater. Pause. He smiles at us.) I don’t mind, though. I really don’t. Not if you don’t. No, no, no, I like it. I like being here. I like standing up here. And all this … all this … strange music … What is this, Neal? What is this piece called? … (Pause. Tenor laughs to himself.) I have this dream sometimes where I’m on stage and I look down and … (He looks down. His pants drop to the floor.) What is this piece, Neal? Does it have a name? Does this piece have a name?  

4.

Intentional Walk

(Bass and Soprano are in bed. They have just made love. Violinist and Double Bass play.)

SOPRANO: I don’t know what to do for the summer.

BASS: Why don’t you take it easy?

SOPRANO: That’s what I’d like to do. But I need money.

BASS: Oh.

SOPRANO: I’ll probably have to get a job.

BASS: What kind of job are you looking for?

SOPRANO: Well, I’m not really looking.

BASS: Oh. SOPRANO: Not yet.

BASS: Well, maybe something will come along.

SOPRANO: That’s what I’m hoping. What are you going to do?

BASS: For the summer? Well, we’ve taken a house up near Lake Wallenpaupack.

SOPRANO: Oh.

BASS: Have you been up there?

SOPRANO: No, I haven’t.

BASS: It’s very nice.

SOPRANO: Are you from there?

BASS: No. I’m from Vancouver.

SOPRANO: Oh.

BASS: And then we lived in Wyoming.

SOPRANO: Wyoming? A cowboy.

BASS: What kind of work do you do? When you work?

SOPRANO: I’m a teacher.

BASS: Oh.

SOPRANO: What do you do?

BASS: I’m a buyer.

SOPRANO: A buyer.

BASS: For J. C. Penney’s.

SOPRANO: Oh. What do you buy?

BASS: Textiles.

SOPRANO: Oh, I see.

BASS: What do you teach?

SOPRANO: Music. But I didn’t know Penney’s sold textiles.

BASS: Well, we make a lot of our own clothes, we have our own labels at Penney’s.

SOPRANO: I didn’t know that.

BASS: Oh, sure. You’ll see the name Penney’s inside the back of a lot of shirts and dresses. If you look for it.

SOPRANO: Oh, you know, now that you mention it, I think I have seen that (Pause.) What does your wife do?

BASS: She’s an alcoholic.

SOPRANO: Oh.

BASS: Look at the sunset.

SOPRANO: Isn’t it incredible? (Pause. She sighs.) I should lose weight, you know.

BASS: But you’re big boned.

SOPRANO: Well, I really really should lose weight.

BASS: Well, you shouldn’t be so critical of yourself.

SOPRANO: My hair is like straw.

BASS: I think it’s very attractive.

SOPRANO: I should use a conditioner.

BASS: Oh, you know what’s good?

SOPRANO: What?

BASS: Eggs. Raw eggs. I’m serious.

SOPRANO: I think you’re teasing me.

BASS: And beer.

SOPRANO: Oh, you know, my mother used to say that.

BASS: Right?

SOPRANO: But I don’t like the smell of beer in my hair.

BASS: So you’ve tried it.

SOPRANO: Well, maybe once, or twice. (They kiss while humming.) Do you travel a lot for Penney’s?

BASS: I do.

SOPRANO: Where do you go?

BASS: All over—the Northeast, Northwest, Midwest, Southwest, I love New Mexico.

SOPRANO: I’ve never been there.

BASS: It’s very beautiful.

SOPRANO: So I’ve heard.

BASS: One place I don’t like is Las Vegas.

SOPRANO: Why?

BASS: Nothing to do.

SOPRANO: There’s gambling.

BASS: Well, if you like it.

SOPRANO: I don’t.

BASS: Me either.

SOPRANO: How many kids do you have?

BASS: Two. A boy and a girl.

SOPRANO: Oh. What are their names?

BASS: Gerry and Tim.

SOPRANO: Gerry and Tim.

BASS: Gerry’s the girl …

SOPRANO: Gerry and Tim.

SOPRANO & BASS: Gerry and Tim.

SOPRANO: Nice names.  

5. Viola

(Violist plays. Mezzo Soprano stands, listening, then sings:)

MEZZO: I hate the viola. I do, I’m sorry. Not you personally, you play beautifully. I don’t know what it is, really. Maybe it’s that awful sound: “Nya nya nya nya nya nya nya. Doe doe doe doe doe doe doe.” It’s so hideous. Not you personally, you play beautifully, you do. I sympathize with you—what you must be going through. I’d kill myself before I’d play the viola—Again. (The Violist begins playing scales.) I played the viola myself for a while. Does that make you smile? Go ahead, smile. (Violist tunes the viola.) Yes, I played the viola myself for a while. I even remember the fingerings. (Violist stops.) I dream them at night Here. (She takes the viola.) All right, let’s see. (She plays and sings:) My dog has—(Squawk. She tries again.) My dog has—(Squawk. She returns the viola.) Well, anyway. (The Violist resumes playing. Mezzo leaves the stage. Then, poking her head in, she sings:) No one’s listening to you! You might as well go home now. (She walks up to him.) Everyone knows the viola is easy. Everyone knows the viola’s so sleazy! It’s neither fish nor fowl. It’s not a violin. Neither out nor in. Just a viola. Just a viola! VIOLA! Ha. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. (Violist plays scales.) I’ll bet you can’t name one famous viola player. Not one! You never play the melody, never a solo! Never! Never! Never! NEVER! (Mezzo stops herself.) What am I saying? Please don’t stop playing. What am I saying? (Violist resumes playing.) I wanted to make music. Hiding in my room with delirious sadness. I want to make music. (Triumphant:) My dog has fleas! My dog has fleas! My dog has … FLEAS!

(Lights fade.)  

ACT TWO

(The Mezzo Soprano is in the same position as the end of Act One. She speaks to the audience.)

MEZZO: I’d walk by the music rooms, you know, just because the payphones were down there in the basement, and I’d hear this … sound … which was his practicing. I would see him sometimes upstairs and around the campus, but I never put the two things together. Him and—I mean, he wasn’t unattractive, but he was so … invisible as a person, no expression, you know, bluh, blank, but then there would be this … sound of his playing. And one day I was on the phone and the sound stopped and the door opened and … he came out for a drink of water. You could have knocked me over with a feather. This … guy … (Pause.) So anyway I thought … I mean, I needed a couple of extra credits and I was sick unto my very soul of Hotel Administration and Restaurant Management. And I thought, Viola. I’ll learn to play the viola. I’ll take a class. So I registered, making sure of when he was available to teach and saying that that was the only time I was free, though actually I had to change my Advanced Nutrition to another time, but it worked out and … he was very distant, you know, and concentrated. He would demonstrate this and that figure, and I was very slow, but I worked hard. And I was never late. And we never spoke about anything except … the music. Sometimes I would … cut Accounting or Food Preparation and just walk by the music rooms where he would be practicing, even late at night when there was nobody else down there and … just … (She listens. The Violist plays. She starts to sing.) I—(She is interrupted by:)

SOPRANO, TENOR & BASS: She loves the viola. She does. (They have stepped into the light. The Bass has a tiny violin and a tiny bow. To the Mezzo:) We’re sorry.

MEZZO: I’m telling this.

BASS: (to the audience:) It’s true.

MEZZO: Not him personally.

TENOR: But the idea—

ALL FOUR: Of music. Music. We don’t know what it is really.

SOPRANO & MEZZO: What is a melody?

TENOR & BASS: Sol mi re. What is—

ALL FOUR: —grief? Grief? What triggers memory in the scent of cut paper? What is anything so invisible, so real? What is song?

(The Bass appears to play his tiny instrument. We hear the Violist.)

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: She loved the viola. She did.

MEZZO: I’m sorry.

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: She would sit—

MEZZO: I sit in the library, dreaming of his fingers—

SOPRANO: Little fingers.

MEZZO: On all the strings—

SOPRANO: On all her buttons.

MEZZO: I even remember the fingerings.

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: She dreams them at night.

MEZZO: (to the Bass:) I do, I’m sorry. BASS: Don’t be sorry.

MEZZO: Oh. Not that way.

BASS: I know what you meant.

MEZZO: Oh. (to the audience:) That was the first thing he ever said to me that wasn’t “This finger, that finger, the timbre.” I’d just heard myself telling him suddenly all about my dream where I was practicing and my fingers turned into his fingers. Which was like his arms were around me, were me … somehow.

BASS: I know that.

MEZZO: You do? BASS: Where you think you’ve been through something, but you don’t know if it’s you or someone you knew or just something you’ve heard about. You don’t even know if—You may just be the world reflecting itself, that’s all you are is the surface of the mirror. Because in dreams—I’m talking about dreams—everything is upside down—like the top floor of a building is really the basement or hot is cold or … men … you know. Left, right (Pause.)

MEZZO: Please, don’t stop playing.

BASS: What would you like to hear?

MEZZO: Anything. (The Bass “plays” his tiny violin; the Violist is heard, then is joined by all the Strings.)

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: It was the music of gods—:

TENOR & BASS: The spheres.

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: It was music to move stones and the hearts of tigers.

TENOR & BASS: At least to her.

MEZZO: To me it was—

ALL FOUR: Music to melt the frozen eyes of an angel. Marble statues turned and wept. Trees uprooted and circled them in glades, bowing down, down. And a rose garden sprang up spontaneously, trim, trim, trim, trimming itself. And birds, all birds, fell silent to learn the tune from his lyre.

SOPRANO & TENOR: Well, that’s what she called it.

BASS: She did. (to the Mezzo:) My what?

MEZZO: Your lyre.

BASS: I see. All right, let’s hear what you’ve practiced. (She takes the tiny instrument and bow, prepares to play.) You’ve studied before, haven’t you?

MEZZO: No, what do you mean?

SOPRANO: Lie number one.

MEZZO: (to the Soprano) Well—Oh come on, I was in the third grade, it was—

SOPRANO: Lies put distance between us.

MEZZO: Okay, I wanted him to think I was more talented than I am, maybe—

SOPRANO: Then need new lies to justify the old ones. They make us believe all our reasons—

MEZZO: Oh, please.

SOPRANO: —and distrust our feelings. And they all come back to haunt us. In the end.

MEZZO: (to the Bass:) No, I haven’t. But thank you for thinking I had. BASS: Well, your fingers, just the way. I mean, you learn quickly …

TENOR: She has big eyes.

BASS: For someone your age.

TENOR: (overlapping) For someone her size.

MEZZO: When did you start? Playing.

BASS: From the moment I was born, practically. They put a violin in my hands before I could walk.

MEZZO: Really?

BASS: One of those little ones. Piano lessons. I was going to be the new Horowitz. Cello, Casals. My dad was very talented, played every instrument practically—

MEZZO: Uh-huh.

BASS: But had been unable—You know, the old story—he couldn’t pursue a career because they couldn’t afford it—And … he was one of seven.

TENOR: (overlapping) What do you think, money grows on trees?

BASS: Everybody worshipped him. He was the band director at the high school. But he really could play. (Instrumentalists play under:) Better than I ever could. So he was always at me, one thing or another. “You wouldn’t know your ass from a hole in the ground!” But he loved me, you know, he just wanted the best for me. Or the best for him. What he would have wanted if he’d been me. Which he wasn’t. So here I am. (Pause.) I told him I didn’t want to spend my life in hotel rooms, sleeping with women I’d just met. He looked me straight in my eye and said: “I can see your future, boy. With all the best intentions. You’ll go to work for some paltry little concern, you won’t even teach music, forget music. They’ll transfer you and your alcoholic wife to Wyoming.”

MEZZO: (spoken quietly) Nice.

BASS : “You’ll die in some hotel room where you’ve gone to bed with some woman who didn’t even want you for your fame. Your gift. Practice.” So I did. I would dream—I’d wake up in my dream and be disappointed at my own reflection. Because I wasn’t him. Classic, isn’t it? Anyway, I survived. And I love the viola, for what it’s worth. (He starts to say something, stops.)

MEZZO: Go ahead.

BASS: I hear “I love you” in viola. “Viola.” “I love you.” (Pause.)

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: She called her mother in Wisconsin.

MEZZO: Hi, Mom.

SOPRANO: Hello, darlin’. How are you?

MEZZO: I’m great.

SOPRANO: Well, good.

MEZZO: How are you?

SOPRANO: All right.

MEZZO: Great.

SOPRANO: You sound so happy.

MEZZO: I am.

SOPRANO: Are you in love?

MEZZO: Yes, I am.

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: It was the first she’d said it.

MEZZO: It’s true.

SOPRANO: Who is he?

MEZZO: Well … he plays the viola.

SOPRANO: He does?

MEZZO: I’m sorry.

SOPRANO: Viola?

MEZZO: I know you wanted me to marry a lawyer.

SOPRANO: Marry?

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: It was the first she’d said it.

MEZZO: Yes. He’s a teacher, a wonderful teacher.

SOPRANO: What does he teach?

MEZZO: Music.

SOPRANO: Oh, I see.

MEZZO: But the most beautiful music. (Violist plays; they listen. Then:)

SOPRANO: Very nice.

TENOR & SOPRANO: They were married in a chapel.

MEZZO: And he played the viola.

BASS: And she wept.

MEZZO: I did, I’m sorry.

TENOR & SOPRANO: And they were in a shower, an ecstasy of discovery.

MEZZO & BASS: Of you. Your—

BASS: Anything—

MEZZO: (overlapping) Body—

BASS: (overlapping) Please—

MEZZO: (overlapping) I need you to—

BASS: (overlapping) I’ll—

MEZZO: (overlapping) Just this—

BASS: (overlapping) Now—

TENOR & SOPRANO: They were alive!

MEZZO: For the first time.

BASS: For the first time.

TENOR & SOPRANO: As if for the first time. And he played the viola.

SOPRANO: And she prayed to him.

TENOR: And he played to her.

SOPRANO: And one night—

SOPRANO & TENOR: —with the sky like a lake, they stepped into a chill—

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: —the reflection of their love …

SOPRANO & TENOR: And were lost. BASS: (to the Mezzo:) Cold?

MEZZO: A little. (The Bass puts his arm around her.)

BASS: Better? … What are you thinking? (She shakes her head.) Do you still love me? (She shakes her head again, teasing.)

SOPRANO & TENOR: They walked in the November night, leaves down, no sound. And the death of love was as swift as a knife.

BASS: (to the Mezzo:) Which do you love more? Me or my music? (She hesitates.)

TENOR & SOPRANO: Late.

MEZZO: You.

TENOR & SOPRANO: Too late.

MEZZO: You, of course.

SOPRANO: (overlapping) They all come back to haunt us.

MEZZO: Why do you ask?

TENOR & SOPRANO: They walked in silence. He stopped at the light. She was lost in thought and stepped out … (Violent sound. The Tenor speaks, echoed almost immediately by the Bass:)

TENOR & BASS: A 37-year-old man in a rented van turned a corner and thought he hit a pothole. He cursed and kept driving. When they caught up to him at the next light, he couldn’t believe …

SOPRANO & TENOR: She was gone …

BASS: He couldn’t believe …

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: What is death? How can it be? A man without life? A body without—A life without …

BASS: Now I am all alone.

SOPRANO: I am useless. I am free.

BASS: Now I am all alone.

TENOR: Alone.

SOPRANO: He called her mother in Wisconsin.

TENOR & SOPRANO: She wept. She wept.

BASS: Right foot, left foot.

TENOR: (overlapping) He went through—

SOPRANO: (slightly overlapping) —the motions.

BASS: Couldn’t sleep.

SOPRANO: (overlapping) He couldn’t eat.

TENOR: “You should get out.”

SOPRANO: “You should cook something.”

TENOR: (overlapping) “Why don’t you play?”

SOPRANO: “Yes.”

TENOR: “Take your mind off.”

SOPRANO: (overlapping) “Practice.” (The Bass “plays” the tiny violin. The Violist is joined by the Mezzo:)

MEZZO: Ah-ah-ah.

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: Her voice!

MEZZO: Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: In the strings!

MEZZO: You never get the melody, never a solo! Never! Never! NEVER! NEVER!

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: What was she saying? (Pause. All overlapping:)

BASS: Right foot.

SOPRANO: He couldn’t sleep.

TENOR: Late.

BASS: Left foot.

SOPRANO: He went through—

TENOR: —the motions.

SOPRANO: “Close your eyes.”

TENOR: “Yes.”

SOPRANO: “There.”

TENOR: He slept.

BASS: He fell.

TENOR: He slept.

BASS: He fell.

TENOR & BASS: He slept.

BASS: He slept.

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: And as he fell, he turned and saw a darkened place bereft of love. A tuneless discord, a dirge of souls without purpose, moving from shape to shadow, and what one loves the other despises. Where up is down, where black is white, and left is always wrong.

SOPRANO, TENOR, & MEZZO: I pledge allegiance to … (trying the left hand) I pledge allegiance to the—(the right hand) Father, Son, and Holy—(the left hand) Father, Son, and Holy Ghost … Which is it? (Disparate sounds and voices, heard simultaneously:)

TENOR: Wait … I was … I had these, they were … they were right here. That’s lovely, Neal, what is that? … Does that piece have a name? The viola is the … fourth largest stringed instrument and, uh … (He looks down: his pants fall to the floor. He picks them up and searches his pockets. At the same time as all of the above, the Soprano plays the piano and says:)

SOPRANO: All right, next week I expect you to have practiced, I want this piece memorized with the markings, remember your little finger, practice the left hand by itself, that should help and have a good time. (sings) Now I am like nothing at all. No, l am like nothing at all.

BASS: He turned and there he saw his father as a young and handsome man. And … his first piano teacher. Together.

SOPRANO: My hair is like straw.

TENOR: I think it’s very attractive.

SOPRANO: I should use a conditioner.

TENOR: Oh, you know what’s good.

SOPRANO: What?

TENOR: Eggs. Raw eggs. I’m serious.

SOPRANO: I think you’re teasing me.

TENOR: And beer.

SOPRANO: Oh, you know, my mother used to say that.

TENOR: Right?

SOPRANO: But I don’t like the smell of beer in my hair.

TENOR: So you’ve tried it?

SOPRANO: Well, maybe once or twice. (They kiss. When they resume singing, they are joined by the Bass, as if remembering their words.)

SOPRANO & BASS: Do you travel a lot for Penney’s?

TENOR & BASS: I do.

SOPRANO & BASS: Where do you go?

TENOR & BASS: All over. The Northeast, Northwest, Midwest, Southwest.

BASS: He’d seen this before. He knew this. The purest, most beautiful ideas were here perverted. Perverted. He knew this place. And he knew she was here. She must be here. For—

ALL FOUR: (repeated in a “round”) This was death itself. He had descended into death itself. [etc.] (Bassoonists play. To them:)

BASS: Please, I beg of you. (The Cellist plays as the Soprano plays the piano. To the Soprano:) Please. I beg you, give her back to me.

SOPRANO: I remember you. You never practiced, did you?

BASS: (to the Tenor) Please, I beg of you. Please give her back.

TENOR: Who? Kind of like a little busty midget woman? (to the Cellist:) Neal, why don’t you play something while I see if I can … I know these were here … Play, play. (The Cellist plays. Music builds to a cacophony.)

BASS: Please! I beg of you. Won’t you listen to me? … Listen! You never listened to anybody but yourself! (He appears to play the tiny violin. Slowly the chaos subsides, leaving the sound of the Violist alone.) For the first time in their eternal sadness …

TENOR: I know this.

BASS: They remembered.

SOPRANO: I wanted to make music.

TENOR: I remember this.

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: The scent of cut paper.

SOPRANO: I know this.

TENOR: (overlapping) I know this.

TENOR & BASS: What is this piece?

SOPRANO, TENOR, & BASS: Is this grief? Grief?

BASS: And they wept.

SOPRANO & TENOR: What’s this called?

BASS: For themselves and for their lives now lost. And there she was—alive and whole once more. (The Mezzo and Bass face one another, transfixed. He breaks the silence with:) BASS: Which do you love most … ?

MEZZO: You and your music … One and the same. Your—

BASS: (overlapping) Anything—

MEZZO: (overlapping) Body—

BASS: (overlapping) Please—

MEZZO: (overlapping) I need you to—

BASS: (overlapping) I’ll—

MEZZO: (overlapping) Just this—

BASS: (overlapping) Now—

TENOR & SOPRANO: They were alive!

MEZZO: For the first time.

BASS: For the first time.

ALL FOUR: And they were permitted to return to life. On one condition …

SOPRANO & TENOR: You must lead the way and she must follow. Both in silence. You must never look back … until you are home again in the world and in yourselves.

ALL FOUR: They began the long slow climb into life, moving from shape to shadow. Shadow. And they were silent. And they rose. And they rose. And they rose. Rose.

BASS: And when he woke in his bed … half asleep. He looked back … to see if …

SOPRANO, TENOR, & MEZZO: On one condition.

BASS: And she was still there … beside me. Asleep.

MEZZO: Not asleep.

SOPRANO & TENOR: You must never look back.

MEZZO: And she opened her eyes to see him for an instant. And was—

ALL FOUR: Gone.

BASS: Now I am all alone.

ALL FOUR: He was alive. And he played the viola. He played the viola. We are the children of chaos, born out of nothing and returned to nothing. It’s a gift. It’s music. It is now and nothing more, nothing more, nothing more.

MEZZO: It is … (She moves to him.) It is … (She takes the tiny violin and bow.) It is … (She appears to play the tiny violin. We hear the Violist and Violinist play together. End of Act Two.)  

Craig Lucas’s most recent works are Prelude to a Kiss and Longtime Companion; his one-act play, Throwing Your Voice, premiered at Naked Angels last December. Orpheus in Love is an opera by Gerald Busby with libretto by Craig Lucas.  

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A newly reconstructed “opera for television.”

Originally published in

BOMB 39, Spring 1992

Featuring interviews with Terry Winters, Sheila Bosworth, Larry Fishburne, Adam Fuss, Tom DiCillo, Kim Wozencraft, Marcus Schubert, Emma Tennant, Todd Graff, Hedda Sterne, and Cucaracha Theatre.

Read the issue
Issue 39 039  Spring 1992